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Plastics menace: KIPPRA roots for circular economy

 Plastics should be made in such a way that they are reusable and recyclable. [iStockphoto]

The reintroduction of incentives in plastic recycling such as zero tax on imported technologies is one of the ways of ridding Kenya of the menace of single-use plastics, according to a local think tank.

Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) reckons this would encourage new investments in the plastic circular economy in the country.

As a result, the sector will create more jobs and reduce the impact of waste on environmental health in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), says KIPPRA in a new policy brief.

The think tank gives an alternative view on how Kenya should handle the plastic menace seven years after the ban on single-use plastic carrier bags.

The policy brief notes that effecting the ban has been a challenge owing to the fact that Kenya's neighbours are yet to impose similar bans and these products, therefore, still find their way into the country through unscrupulous traders.

"Importation of plastics continues through product packaging and Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) here in Kenya, which means the ban on single-use plastics has not fully cured the problem," reads the policy brief published in late January.

It is in this regard that KIPPRA is putting forward an alternative of a circular economy, pegging it on the growing recycling industry valued at $31 billion (Sh4.03 trillion) as of 2015 and is poised to reach $57 billion (Sh7.4 trillion) by 2024.

"Plastics are important to our daily lives, and the ban may not solve the problem of environmental pollution. Therefore, there is a need to think of how to produce plastics sustainably to ensure that they do not continue having a negative effect on the environment," says KIPPRA.

KIPPRA adds that plastics should be made in such a way that they are reusable and recyclable.

Further, KIPPRA argues that the adoption of plastic circularity in Kenya has the potential for economic gains and wealth creation while ensuring environmental sustainability and public health.

"Demand for virgin raw materials is expected to reduce because recycled plastics are used in industries to substitute for virgin materials, thus reducing environmental degradation through resource depletion," adds KIPPRA in the policy brief.

As such, the think tank proposes incentives such as zero tax on imported technologies, machinery, equipment recycling and material recovery infrastructure for companies and businesses in the value chain to encourage investments. KIPPRA notes that most of the policies and legislation do not address plastic waste management along the value chain.

Therefore, there is a need for relevant government entities to collaborate to harmonise waste management legislation and policies that address plastic circularity along the value chain," says KIPPRA. Transitioning to a circular economy, it says, needs the application of technologies that support the whole plastic value chain.

"Therefore, all actors in plastic waste management need to invest in technologies that start from design to the recycling level," it adds. The policy think tank also recommends the relevant government agencies implement the ban on single-use plastic bags to promote plastic circularity.

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry in collaboration with the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and the county governments may consider fast-tracking the development of the Plastic Circular Economy Policy and Bill.

Even so, KIPPRA notes that Kenya has made some progress in the shift towards a circular economy through the auspices of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) and Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA).

It cites start-up businesses, which have set up technologies for recycling plastics and manufacturing products such as basins, kitchen trays, egg trays, paving blocks, plastic poles and carpets, among others.

"An example of such companies is Takataka Solutions waste company that deals in waste collection, sorting, recycling, and composting," says KIPPRA.

The other is Mr Green Africa, which is one of the recycling companies in the continent that has leveraged mobile-app technology in its collection process by integrating informal waste collectors, consumers, and entrepreneurs into the value chain.

"The shift from the concentration on the ban on single-use of plastics to the transition towards a circular economy is not a smooth one," says KIPPRA.

"The policy and legal environment are supposed to support and give guidelines on how the implementation should be carried out."

KIPPRA says an assessment of the policy and legal environment shows that the available policies do not address the whole value chain of plastics, which includes design, production, use, disposal, collection, segregation and recycling.

"The policies do not give a clear roadmap on how it is supposed to be implemented. In addition, waste management policies seem to be fragmented in these documents, and no specific policy on the circular economy would help in accelerating the transition," says KIPPRA in the policy brief.

A shortcoming in the application of technology in plastic waste management is that it is more mechanical.

"Previous studies show that Kenya is yet to fully embrace technology along the plastic value chain as most technologies are applicable in the collection and recycling stages," says KIPPRA.

"Although there are firms in Kenya using technologies such as mobile-enabled apps, there is still more to be done."

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